Legislature: Power play puts Senate in GOP hands
Republicans officially take control of the state Senate, saying it's a cause for celebration. Democrats complain there's nothing bipartisan about what the GOP is offering.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Republicans proved Monday they had the votes to take control of the state Senate, opening a session that must deal with a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall, a court mandate for more education funding, and Democrats' resentment over a loss of power.
Democratic Sens. Rodney Tom, of Medina, and Tim Sheldon, of Potlatch, Mason County, crossed party lines to give the GOP a 25-24 majority. They call themselves the Majority Coalition Caucus. Tom is the new majority leader; Sheldon, president pro tempore.
"This is a cause for celebration," Republican Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said of Monday's power shift. "People want us to work collaboratively."
Democrats reject Republicans' claim that the arrangement reflects a new bipartisanship. It's not bipartisanship, they say, if the GOP-led coalition is comprised of 23 Republicans and two Democrats.
They also contend membership on the budget-writing committee and the rules committee, which controls the flow of legislation on the floor, is heavily stacked against Democrats.
The Rules Committee will have 13 members from the GOP coalition and eight Democrats. The budget panel will have 10 Democrats and 13 members from the coalition.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, called what the GOP was offering "BINO, bipartisanship in name only."
It's not clear if the new arrangement will lead to bipartisan solutions or partisan gridlock. Although the Senate is in GOP control for the first time in eight years, the House and governor's office remain in Democratic hands.
Republicans did offer to let Democrats chair six committees while Republicans would lead six others, including the budget, education and health-care panels. Republicans and Democrats would co-chair three other committees under the proposal.
So far, only three Democrats have agreed to chair committees.
Democrats contend true bipartisanship would mean having Democrats and Republicans co-chair all committees. The GOP-led coalition disagreed and voted down a Democratic power-sharing proposal.
Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, will co-chair the Senate Transportation Committee along with GOP Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, will chair the Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee, and Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, Pacific County, will chair Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development.
Tom said this showed the GOP coalition was truly bipartisan. "There are five of us Democrats who are intimately involved in this process now," he said.
However, Eide, Hatfield and Hobbs don't plan to caucus with the Republicans. Both sides sniped at each other through the day, starting with Democrats taking offense to the opening prayer.
As part of his invocation, Jon Sanné of Olympia's Calvary Chapel expressed that marriage be strengthened "as You ordained it for our good and Your glory."
Many saw that as a swipe at same-sex marriage, although Republican leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, Adams County — who invited Sanné — said it was not meant as a political statement.
Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray of Seattle released a statement saying it was "regrettable that we begin the 2013 session on a divisive note."
Murray led the successful fight to legalize same-sex marriage last year.
Aside from the prayer dispute, the day went pretty much as expected.
Democrats had their talking points in hand before they went on the floor. They knew their proposals would be defeated and the Republican's would be approved.
They'd even given up their offices already, handing over the more spacious digs traditionally held by the majority party to the GOP.
Tom was ensconced in the Senate majority leader's office, which Murray had thought he would occupy this session.
Murray actually walked into the wrong office with a reporter Monday because he wasn't used to the new location.
Outgoing Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who lost to Gov.-elect Jay Inslee in the gubernatorial election, dropped by to offer parting words to the Republican Senate caucus — and accidentally went to the Democratic caucus before realizing his mistake.
He had not gotten word they'd moved.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or email@example.com. Staff reporter Brian M. Rosenthal contributed to this report.